The 1850's. Manhattan's elite are only just setting out to make 5th Avenue their enclave. The rest of the population is simply trying to earn a living. Displaced Native Americans, runaway or freed slaves, and unmarried women are particularly vulnerable to the twists and turns of fortune. Emma Cunningham, mother of two adolescent daughters, is desperately searching for a man to replace their now deceased father. Emma believes she has found him in prosperous dentist Harvey Burdell, who wines and dines her, invites her and her family to move into his townhouse, and convinces her to invest her daughter's dowry on land on the Jersey waterfront. Alas, one winter evening, Dr. Burdell is stabbed to death, and Emma is brought to trial for his murder.
Interspersing investigation and court scenes with flashbacks to Emma's relationship with Burdell, 31 Bond Street recounts the story of Emma's defense by Attorney Henry Clinton, who has risked his career and his livelihood to help her. This is anything but a straightforward case, although that's what the DA would like people to believe. Were Emma and her dentist married? What happened to Burdell's coachman, Samuel, the last person to see him alive? Was Burdell an upstanding citizen or a con artist who preyed upon women?
Author Horan ends her novel with summaries of the lives of the principals following the trial's dramatic conclusion. Relying upon the historical record, she seems to have deftly accomplished the difficult task of fictionalizing a real event without distorting the facts.
I love books that are set in old New York City and this one, based on an actual historical event, doesn't disappoint. It's the story of Emma Cunningham, a widow with two daughters who is pressed for money and struggling to hang on to her place in middle class, "respectable" society. The year is 1857, right before the Civil War, and like other women of her time and class, Emma is severely restricted by the social customs -- not to mention the laws -- of the day. If she is not able … more
After 21 years as a school psychologist, I now work part-time at two local historical museums, giving tours and teaching special programs. This leaves me more time to enjoy my little grandchildren, and … more
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*Starred Review* Scandal, social climbing, and corruption in Manhattan during the 1850s come alive in Horan’s historical mystery. Emma Cunningham, a widow with two teenage daughters, becomes financially and emotionally involved with Harvey Burdell, a wealthy dentist and land speculator. Without witnesses, he is murdered brutally in their Bond Street townhouse, and Cunningham is accused of the crime. An ambitious lawyer, Henry Clinton, risks his reputation and livelihood to defend her and solve the crime. Meanwhile, Horan describes living conditions in mid-nineteenth-century Manhattan: government corruption is rampant, Tammany Hall is coming to power, the Fugitive Slave Acts threaten to undo the work of the Underground Railroad, and poverty and wealth run equally rampant. Horan’s characters, like Edith Wharton’s, are motivated by social class and survival in a world ruled by wealth and national uncertainty. This unique look at history and the private lives of those affected by it makes for captivating reading. --Heather Paulson